Hundreds of festivities and celebrations are held every year in Viet Nam, but few people understand the significance and details of these festivals. Nguyen Thao speaks to Professor Nguyen Van Huy, director of the Viet Nam Heritage Association's Centre for Research of Heritage, about this issue.
Inner Sanctum: Many festivals no longer seem special as a number of them are held the year round. Do you agree?
Yes. It's right. We have so many festivities annually. As a result, the special character of many festivals is being lost.
The Vietnamese culture ministry and the UN cultural agency have encouraged us to make an inventory of the festivals. This is very important to recognise the real value of each festival and the challenges we have been facing.
We should understand each festival clearly, the circumstances in which it came into being and its development. Many festivals have lost their special character due to unsuitable planning.
For example, a festival comes into being in a village over generations. It becomes the pride of the local people but the authorities want to upgrade it to a district, province or national-level festival to receive more support and assistance from the State.
This leads to the loss of an honest endeavour by ordinary people who have been managing their festival themselves.
In the past, festivals were dependent on the community mainly for survival. If they are upgraded, the State has to balance its budget to inject money into the festivals, making them lose their special character.
Inner Sanctum: How are the concerned agencies dealing with the problem?
First, the festivals should be classified into two types: traditional festivals which have developed over thousands of years, and modern festivals set up by the culture authorities or business firms.
We should make a plan for modern festivals.
Meanwhile, traditional festivals should not be planned. They should be managed by the local people. We should make an inventory of the festivals to recognise their real values and status, so as to preserve them because ancient festivals carry important intangible cultural values.
The inventory is the task of the Heritage Department that should direct all provinces and cities to work together, while the planning of modern festivals should be done by local culture authorities.
Inner Sanctum: It means that the community has the right to manage their traditional festivals?
Ancient festivals belong to the communities. We do not have the right to ask them to manage their festivals. However, the right to organise a festival or not belongs to the relevant government cultural agencies.
Inner Sanctum: You say that the preservation and development of cultural and historical values is the right of communities. But some say that if communities are given the right to decide, they would be concerned only about economic benefits and would not understand cultural and historical values.
By saying so, it means we are not evaluating the community's role correctly.
I admit that there are several communities that organise festivals for economic benefit, but not all communities do that.
However, we should promote awareness via mass media and meetings among communities, the people and the relevant agencies, about organising festivals.
For example, when we evaluate a temple, one should know its values such as its history and when it was built, its age being reflected by the faded walls, moss and ancient trees.
But inadequate awareness could change everything if the temple is rebuilt with modern equipment and modern objects are displayed amid ancient objects.
Recently, a person donated a two-tonne iron horse, an iron armour and an iron rod for display in the wooden Giong Temple complex, a historical site and the pride of Hanoians. The iron objects look like fish out of water there.
The temple's wooden architecture is very popular and gives a special colour to the complex. But that effect is now spoilt by the iron horse.
Those in charge of managing the temple should know how to refuse these things to maintain the temple's original form and sanctity.
Another example is of the thousands of pilgrims who flock to Yen Tu Festival in the northern province of Quang Ninh every year. Many of them do not understand Buddhism, who King Tran Nhan Tong was, why he became a monk and the religious development during the Tran dynasty's reign.
Recently, the Centre for Research of Heritage consulted the Management of the Yen Tu Relic site about displaying signboards with information about the historical and cultural tales of the relic for visiting tourists. — VNS